To understand what you are working with, it is important to get to know your soil. Firstly, look at it – not just the surface, but dig down a little bit to the depth where young plant roots would be. What can you see here? Are there worms? Are there plant roots? Is the soil heavy and hard to dig, or light and crumbly? What colour is it? Most of our soils within the City West Water region will be a little heavy, contain some level of organic matter and roots, and be a dark to yellow clay colour.
Next, smell your soil. Healthy soil smells sweet and earthy, like a walk in a rainforest. It’s loose, well drained and rich in organic matter. Air and water move freely through the soil because air space exists around soil. If your soil smells like this – fantastic! If your soil doesn’t smell like anything – you have a little bit of work to do. If your soil smells sour or “eggy”, it is telling you it is compacted and water-logged. Never fear, this can be fixed.
pH testing of your soil
The next thing to do is a pH test. Invest in your soil. The first, and possibly most important purchase, should be a soil pH testing kit. Readily available from good garden centres and hardware stores, pH test kits will let you know how “acidic” or “alkaline” your soil is.
The right pH levels
Nutrients essential to healthy plant growth are all available, at the correct amounts, within a pH range of 6.5 – 7.5.
If the pH is too low (acid), it can be raised with dolomite or lime.
If the pH is too high (alkaline), it can be lowered with sulphur.
In addition to this, some plants have a fairly specific pH range in which they will do best, and it is always best to test the soil to know if you are on the right track.
One pH test kit should last years… just don’t forget to test regularly, and in different areas of your garden.
It is important to test the soil from the root zone, so dig down about 10cm – 20cm for an accurate pH. Never test the pH of fresh composts and manures – it will give you a false reading. These materials are best incorporated into the garden, left to sit for a couple of weeks, and then tested.
If you think your soil needs further testing, there are organisations that can do this for you. Be aware that this will often incur a fee, and that the results can be difficult to interpret. If you need a second opinion, why not take a sample of your soil to one of the fantastic garden centres located throughout the City West Water area, and ask an expert.
To assist you in discovering what soil type you might have in your backyard and how to work best with what you have, read our articles on –
- What is soil?
- What soil can I expect to find in my backyard?
- Caring for your soil
- Improving your soil
- Potting Mix versus Garden Soil
- Which soils and manures will meet your specific needs?
Information in the soil series articles provided by Helen Tuton